Ariana Grande Concert Attack Inspires Young Feminists to ‘Stand Up to the Fear’

If the attack was meant to make young women feel disempowered, it failed

During the last moments of Ariana Grande’s concert Monday night, thousands of fans sang along to the pop star’s hit “One Last Time.” The lights were dimmed so that the whole stadium glowed blue. Ariana stood onstage in all white, with her signature high ponytail, and it was almost as if she were singing along with her fans, not the other way around. “One last time,” they all sang, “I need to be the one to take you home.”

For fans at the concert, and fans around the world, this song has taken on a new meaning. It has come to represent the memory of the 22 souls lost later that night, and a feeling of unity against the terrorism of the attack. There is a movement on Twitter among fans to get the song to No. 1 on iTunes as a sign of solidarity with the victims and against the attacker.

“We will not live in fear,” Grande fan Alfredo Flores posted on Thursday. “Terrorism will not strip us from this beautiful life; this beautiful life of joy and love.”

The attack has sparked a “renewed dedication” to the issue of female empowerment, said Kirsten Swinth, a professor at Fordham University and an expert on contemporary women’s issues, as evidenced by fans’ response on social media.

“The mix of Grande’s music and the crowd full of girls and women out in a public space celebrating their own freedom and independence certainly contradicts all that ISIS stands for and its ideology of women’s roles and place in society,” she told TheWrap.

ISIS atrocities against women and girls — including kidnappings and rape — have been widely documented. And while the terror group has not explicitly said the Manchester attack was one against women’s independence, the fact that the bombing took place at a concert by Grande — who has become a symbol for young female empowerment — has many people pondering what the act of terror means in the fight for women’s rights. Salon, Billboard and NPR have all published pieces expressing the idea that this particular attack felt different from all the rest, that it was one meant to dampen the confidence and independence of women and young girls.

The “forces of oppression and repression that want to deny women their freedom and place in the public sphere needs to be continually challenged and resisted,” Swinth said, recalling the “she persisted” comment made by Senator Mitch McConnell earlier this year, when Senator Elizabeth Warren continued to speak even after being asked to stand down on the Senate floor.

The phrase has turned from a disparaging remark to a rallying cry to champion powerful, confident women.

Grande has similarly been credited with transforming characteristics typically used to make fun of girls, like ultra-femininity and looking young, into empowering traits. As Joe Pareles and Joe Coscarelli wrote in The New York Times, Grande is “a modern woman who knows exactly what she wants.”

“One Last Time” is a song representative of much of Grande’s music. It tells the story of a girl who has lost her love to another, but wants one more night together. The girl in the song knows she’s being unreasonable, but she’s willing to fight for what she wants. “At least I’m being honest,” the lyrics go.

Mia Bloom, an expert on women and terrorism and a professor of communication at Georgia State University, said it’s important not to assume the motives behind the attack. “Yes, ISIS absolutely hates women, but they hate Western women and they hate Western men, and they hate the Muslim girls who would be at that concert,” she told TheWrap. “Whether or not this is about female empowerment, I just think this is about human empowerment.”

While ISIS supporters have not said the attack was specifically on girls, they do acknowledge that the attack was on young children. “As ISIS fanboys have been discussing the attack within their chatrooms, they’ve acknowledged that the target might be young children, but then the justification for this is dead children in Mosul [or Syria],” Bloom told TheWrap.

This week, several events have been canceled across Britain, including many of Grande’s European tour dates and the London premiere of “Wonder Woman” — both events highlighting strong women.

Warner Bros. did not cite a specific reason for why the premiere was canceled when TheWrap reached out. But the studio did issue a statement, saying, “Our thoughts are with those affected by the recent tragedy in the UK. In light of the current situation, we will not be proceeding with our plans for the ‘Wonder Woman’ premiere and junket activities in London.”

Heather Rosoff, an expert on risk and decision making around terrorism at the University of Southern California, said because details around the attack are still developing, security concerns are important to think about when it comes to entertainment events in the wake of an attack.

Bloom suspects that “canceling other events in Manchester is because the threat level went to critical.” She points out increasing evidence that ISIS’s claim of responsibility is valid, and that “there is a high suspicion that [attacker Salman Abedi] was part of a larger cell and there might have been other things planned.” And so canceling events “could be less about letting the terrorists win,” she told TheWrap.

Grande’s management team also released a statement saying that her tour dates have “been suspended until we can further assess the situation and pay our proper respects to those lost.”

Swinth told TheWrap that honoring the wishes of those who were most affected by the tragedy is important. But “if you were to ask me in a more philosophical way,” she said, “I don’t believe that canceling events in this context makes sense because I think we need to stand up to the fear and stand up to the oppression that’s embedded in this horrific attack.”